Friday, 15 September 2017

Breastfeeding - My Story

I wrote this post during Breastfeeding week but just couldn't muster the courage to hit publish.  Thinking about it made me question whether I should just hit the trash button, after all, breastfeeding week is about encouraging breastfeeding, the emphasis should maybe be on success - but mine wasn't a breastfeeding success story.  Mine was a long eight months of tears (mine and baby's), of pain, of feeling like a failure.

My Story

In January 2015 my second bundle of joy was born, a whopping 9lb 9.5oz.  I had gone in with the assumption that I was going to breastfeed but knew things might not work so took a carton of ready made formula into the hospital just in case but really was not planning on using it - and for the 24 hours after labour we were in hospital I didn't.  I got her to latch (though in hindsight not very well I don't think).  I sat in that chair in my private room off the ward and held my baby, at first it seemed ok, she seemed to latch on.  The first midwife saw that I had her at my breast and was happy with that as she seemed to be feeding well but then things started to go down hill.  She started screaming when I tried to get her to latch. She wouldn't stay on. By the time we got home late on the Monday night, a whole 36 hours since I had gone into hospital. A whole, 72 hours since I had last slept except for a few brief moments after delivery.

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I was exhausted, I couldn't get her to latch, I cried, I got my husband to give her the bottle of formula - but she wouldn't take more than a few mls of that either.  Eventually she fell asleep and slept for a good 6 hour stretch, as did I.  I didn't know she shouldn't sleep that long. My first child had been so different, she fell into a natural pattern for feeding - four hourly without needing the prompts to wake, to feed.  It had also been 12 years since my last child.

The following morning the midwife made the first of her visits.  We voiced our concerns about her feeding poorly, we were told that she should not sleep like she did for six hours, her blood sugars were probably a little low and we must get milk into her (I also felt a feeling of disapproval that we had given formula, but think this was probably exasperated by my own low mood which was developing - by 11 days post partum I was on a daily dose of anti-depressants).

We began to feed hourly around the clock upon medical advice. One of us would sleep for two hours and then we would swap. I expressed some milk which was basically force fed via spoon, syringe, cup - anyway we could get it into her.  12 long weeks I tried, desperately to feed her at the breast and with an attempted top up from a bottle of expressed milk and when I couldn't express, formula. I had support from a NHS lactation consultant/midwife who came to the house, I attended breast feeding clinics, slowly she dropped through the centiles from 98th to 25th by 12 weeks old. This resulted in a referral to a consultant within a week, and still I continued to express milk as she wouldn't or couldn't feed very well, although the doses of Gaviscon were helping somewhat.

I found the whole experience in those earlier days emotionally draining. I dreaded my beautiful baby girl waking up for a small feed. She would latch and suck and come off, cry and the cycle would repeat. I would eventually have to feed her some expressed milk but she would do the same with the teat on the bottle, and the same if I tried formula - all the while she was getting more and more upset and taking such small amounts.   I wanted my baby to feed that was my main priority but I also desperately wanted to feed my baby the way I wanted, the way I thought I had to, the way nature intended, they way I thought I had to to be a good Mum .  Even thinking about it now, 2.5 years my heart aches just a tiny bit.

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Going out of the house with my bottles of milk, even knowing it was milk I had expressed whilst stuck to a pump for the previous hour just to get enough to feed her made me feel like I was letting her down. Stupidly, as it was breast milk I was giving her, breast milk I was spending every spare minute expressing at the cost of spending valuable time with my other child and with my new baby.

I felt eyes look at me, or I thought I did, judging me, wondering why I wasn't feeding my baby the way nature intended.  I felt ashamed.  I hated leaving the house.   I decided illogically, that I had to show people I was a good mum, so I bought a load of cloth nappies, made sure I always had her in her sling as I thought these would make people think I was a good Mum even if I was sticking a bottle in my poor child's mouth (looking back, I did enjoy those close moments in the sling, even with the ongoing pain from SPD and split abdominal muscles from the pregnancy - not because I thought people would see a good mum, but because those close moments kept a bond there when my mood got lower).

Eventually, she was diagnosed with allergies. She had a cows milk protein allergy, soy and egg allergy and if I consumed fish or raisins they seemed to affect her negatively though no allergy to these was diagnosed. We were prescribed allergy friendly milk by the consultant, given guidance from the dietitian to ensure both she and I were getting all the nutrients we needed, as I was still expressing milk for her.  Even with her diagnosis I still felt deep down that I was failing my little girl. I continued to spend many an hour sat with my double electric pump trying to get as much breast milk as I could so I wouldn't have to give her the prescription formula.  I remained dairy, egg, fish and soy free so that I could try to feed my baby.  By four months we were able to stop waking her during the night (these feeds by this point were up to two hourly) but she started to wake of her own accord. Each time she awoke, I would try to get her to latch and she would suckle and then she would start crying and I would give her a bottle which she would eventually take, she would try to suckle, she would pull away and eventually the bottle would empty but my eyes would be full. Full of tears of sadness, tears borne of guilt as I felt, still, that I was failing as a Mum.

My companion for 8 months

At six months, we began the weaning process. We introduced food, she loved it, still the pump was out, still I was neglecting most things so that I could just pump a little bit more, I cried when I knocked that bottle over, I cried when my pump didn't seem to be working as well anymore.  I hired a hospital grade pump in a vain attempt to get more milk.  Two more months, we stumbled along. Gaviscon in the bottles, every night attempting to get a good latch that she would stay on for.  I wanted to feed my baby, I saw Mums at baby and toddler group feeding their children, little babies, older babies, toddlers. I wanted to feed my baby.

The end of our feeding story

Then when my beautiful girl was 8 months old I saw the light so to speak.  I made a life changing decision to put the pump away.  It was a sad day, but it also was day of brightness. A cloud lifted.  I felt I had missed 8 months with my not so new born.  She would settle best for my husband (in the very early days she would settle ONLY for him) at this point which up until then I had put down to me being an awful mum. But I realised that actually, the reason she wouldn't easily for her mummy was because her mummy was stressed and it fed to her.  As I accepted our feeding story had come to an end my bond grew stronger with her, now here we are and the girl wants nothing more than to spend time with her mummy, with me.  That usually involves clambering over me or waking me at 4.30 to play!

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I have come away from this feeding experience not necessarily a stronger person, but I understand now - it doens't matter if your baby wears cloth nappies or disposables, is carried in a sling or in their pram, is fed formula or breast milk.  Yes, I know breast milk carries many benefits but to me, in my opinion, forming a bond with your baby is important, your maternal mental health is important. Loving your baby and yourself is important. Probably the most important.

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